Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pride Day and HIV Workshops

So as I'm sure many people know, June is Pride Month, - I honestly did not expect to celebrate Pride Day or Pride Month in Guatemala, and I haven't for the last two years. This year however, due to work with the transgender community in Xela, we were contacted by an organization there whom PC volunteers had worked with during their PEPFAR (The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) workshops and programs. We were therefore invited to participate in Xela's FIRST EVER Pride Parade. It wasn't huge, but it was a success. We had a great showing from the gay, lesbian and transgender communities, as well as talks about being gay in Guatemala (a VERY conservative country), coming out in Guatemala and more. The theme was mainly, acceptance, peace and non-violence, and from what I witnessed there was no negative reactions from the crowd.

Due to the hard work of our HIV committee, each project received a lot of money from the US government to work on HIV education. (PEPFAR funds). We have therefore had trainings for health center staff teaching them how to give our 3 hr HIV/AIDS workshop, and have had to set up, as a team, a workshop for a PEMAR (high risk) population. Therefore this past Monday we gave the HIV workshop to about 50 municipal workers (all men) from San Vicente. They were actually a great audience, very participatory, they asked great questions and they were (well seemed) genuinely interested in the topic. It wasn't my normal HIV workshop crowd, but it was a very important population to educate, as they are the community leaders, and can therefore disseminate the information to many people within the community.

I've been staying so busy, it's hard to believe I have less than 2 weeks left in San Vicente, and less than a month of service left. It hasn't hit me yet that I'm leaving as I'm constantly so busy, but I'm sure it will, if not here, then for sure when I get home. It has been a great two years, and I am going to try to start winding down my work, so I can focus on saying my goodbyes and sorting out my house and packing up all my stuff.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Winding Down

My time in Guatemala is quickly coming to an end. I fly out on the 19th of July, however, I will leave San Vicente in about a month.

It's amazing how much stuff one accumulates in two years, especially in my big house that I have had all to myself. Between spices and vitamins, moisturizing creams and plates, I have a LOT of sorting out I'll have to do in the next few weeks.

Luckily, my sitemate Caitlin is moving into the house this Saturday, so I will be able to leave most of the stuff to her, without having to move it (ultimate laziness!).

That's not to say I haven't been working. Peace Corps has recently received a LOT of money to work with local populations about HIV/AIDS prevention, we are trying to reach out to PEMAR populations (Poblaciones en Mas Alto Riesgo - High Risk Populations) so I am working with a couple nurses from the health center to set up an HIV workshop with our new local police officers as well as the employees of the local bus companies. We are hoping to do the workshop in early June.

I also hope to finish off all the required paperwork for my project this coming month as well as all of the paperwork needed to leave the Peace Corps. We need to write a DOS report and a COS report, Description of Service and Close of Service Reports. The DOS is an official report saying that in fact you were in the Peace Corps for 27 months, this is what you completed etc. and is signed by the Country Director. The COS report is something all volunteers write up about their work and their communities to pass on to future volunteers who may live in and work in that site.

However the despedida season has begun, which means that all the volunteers from my group are leaving so every weekend from now until I leave I have a going away party to go to. It's loads of fun, sad as well as we're all starting to say goodbye and keeping me very, very busy. People in my town have started talking about throwing me a despedida as well, so I'm sure it'll start on my end soon enough.

It's still strange to think of leaving this place forever, living and working in San Vicente for 2 years has been such a powerful experience. I've made a little home for myself, with neighbors, friends and a small community. Kids coming over to say hi, young women coming over to knit and chismar (gossip), going to dinner at Arale's house and teaching her kids English. While everyday has its challenges, I have learned to live and co-exist here within the community.

Of course I'm not finished yet, and I hope that this next month isn't all about goodbyes, but also about hard work and continuation, however there is a sense of winding down and change to it that has a very distinct flavor.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

2 year anniversary

On April 27th I celebrated two years in Guatemala, which means I'm on my last 3 month stretch. After finishing construction on my project, I am afraid I'm bogged down in paperwork and will also have to write up reports for the government about my service and town. So the last three months of service will be winding down community work and focusing more on reports, conferences and health stuff.

On my 25th birthday (May 11th, I take cash, check or credit!! just kidding) I will head down to Antigua, Guatemala for my Close of Service Conference, which is three days that wraps up my training groups' service. It will be the last time all of us that came here in April of 2009 will get together. Many people in my training group are leaving in June, however I will stay till the very end and am not leaving Guatemala until July 19th, completing all 27 months of my service.

I've also been setting the site up for my replacements. I have organized it so that I am replaced by two volunteers, one will live in the center of San Vicente where I live and work, and the second will live up in Xetena (pronounced She-te-nah) where the health post is (we have one health center, where I work and one health post which is smaller and only has two nurses and visiting doctors from Medical School) and work in the further communities (and dare I say it, colder!) up on the mountain of Tena.

So I have been working to figure out where they should work and have been setting up new promoter groups in new communities. I hope this is helpful for them, because I spent the first three or four months of my service walking around trying to create groups and starting charlas, however, as I have five groups already made and am starting two more, they will be all set to start working on their charlas and promoter training right away.

The "replacement" group has in fact already arrived, 37 new Healthy Homes volunteers arrived in Guatemala for their 3 months of training on the 27th, so I will be working with their training group a little bit (not as much as last year as I just don't have the time!) doing presentations about the Gender and Development Committee and hosting a couple of them in my site for Individual Directive Activities (IDA) working with me for a week. Then at the beginning of July is site visit, where the two volunteers who will be living here for the next two years, come and get to see where they'll be working and start moving into their houses (I've found them some great houses so they won't have the trouble I had when I got here finding a house!).

Regardless it will be a busy last few months and I'm sure they will fly by, and while I am excited about my last few months here, I am also starting to look forward to the summer in Madison, CT with my family and of course starting University in Sussex next fall.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Little Things

This morning my counterpart Romeo and I had a meeting with all 180 food vendors that sell food &/or beverages in San Vicente (mainly tienda owners). We talked about safe food preparation, keeping their kitchens/frying stalls clean, garbage, water safety etc. It was a three hour long workshop and attendance was mandatory in order for the vendors to keep their license.

I guess my job doesn't really sink in most of the time. I give hundreds of talks, workshops and trainings and I assume that only about .5% of the information is actually digested. I still think that. However, every now and then someone surprises you and that happened this afternoon.

I was walking up to Chihuitan to check on the progress of the project (100% done with the stoves about 80% done with the floors!) - and I walked past a french fry stand. The owner, who had attended the meeting earlier in the day, was making a makeshift cover for the french fries with wire hangers and plastic wrap to keep the flies off. He also had a brand new garbage can, with a lid - AND he had his wife scrubbing the frying bowl with disinfectant. I felt my heart swelling up with pride. I am even thinking about breaking my diet and buying some french fries from them later to show solidarity!


Tuesday, April 12, 2011


After hard work for about 10 days, we're showing some real progress. All of the stoves are done except for one and we're finishing all of the floors today in Chihuitan, and then the contractor is moving on to Xemuj. So we should be all done by mid week next week!

I'm not going to lie, it has been hard work. Up really early to get up to the communities at a reasonable hour. Working lifting block and mixing cement can get really tiring. My back and legs are always sore and my hands are all blistered and cut up. But with the end in sight it really seems worth it. Some of the families even wrote my name "Recuerdo a Lic. Abril" in their floor to remember me by! That was really sweet.

So things are going really well, so far we haven't had one big problem with the materials or building and the stoves are looking really, really good! It's so great to know that the women have really learned a new skill and have worked with their neighbors to help build each others' stoves. They have helped everyone who has needed it, for example there are a couple widows who don't have husbands or families to help them build their stove, so on a chosen day four or five of their neighbors who are project participants have show up and built the stove with her, always finishing that day.

They are super efficient and due to that it looks like we'll be 100% finished with the project before Holy Week!

Monday, April 4, 2011

It's hammer time

Two out of three stove demonstrations have been completed. During the demonstrations the contractor Don Diego (pictured left) teaches the women how to build stoves. They then work as a team building their own.

As you can see, we've been hard at work, and the stoves look great!

Tomorrow is the last stove demonstration before the women are on their own!

Wish us luck! (Floors start on Wednesday!)

Saturday, April 2, 2011


After many bumps in the road and a ton of paperwork, we are finally beginning construction on the cement floor and stove project. This past week I have buying and delivering materials to the communities of Chihuitan and Xemuj, tomorrow (Sunday) we will distribute all the materials to the families who are receiving the project and the stove building and floor demonstrations start on Monday. We received many generous donations and a Small Project Assistant grant from USAID of over Q27,000 (about 3,000 USD), so a big thank you to all the donors! The communities have been busy preparing and have consolidated all of the materials they contributed, such as sand, gravel and construction equipment. They've also helped to unload the trucks of materials that have arrived. I will keep the blog updated with photos of the construction and any new updates!